In 1963, black people’s hopes and aspirations collided with the heart and mindset of a segregated Birmingham. That confluence led to the civil rights demonstrations and strife that defined the city and Alabama for decades afterward.
That year I was 10.
I lived on Center Way in the (mostly) placid community of South Titusville, in southwest Birmingham. (more…)
My recollection of 1963 centers around gaining a new friend at a swimming outing in August 1963, and losing her in the church bombing a month later. Sixteenth Street Baptist Church had an all-day youth pool outing at Memorial Recreation Center. I was invited by my paternal aunts, one the long-time organist for the church (Mary Alice Stollenwerck) and the other a long-time member (Myrtle Lumpkin) and teacher. That day I met Addie Mae Collins and we “clicked,” spending all day chatting in the corner of the swimming pool while most of the other kids swam and ran about. I was excited about the closeness we rapidly formed during the day. A month later I was horrified to learn that she was one of the victims of the bombing that killed her and three other girls that I knew by name and family affiliation at church only. (more…)
Just three and a half years after surviving my unhappiest year, 1963, the Birmingham News interviewed four young adults to speak about changes in the New South. In its May 21, 1967 edition, while a student at Miles College, I was recorded saying, “the South is improving, but you learn that you must struggle to achieve something. You learn that nothing really comes easy.”
Indeed, life during the fall of 1963 was far from easy in one old, hateful southern city: Birmingham, Alabama. I was a senior at Ullman High School eagerly awaiting graduation in its winter class. Cynthia Wesley was a fourteen-year-old student at Ullman; I was two years older. We first exchanged flirting glances. Then, through our friends, we passed little innocent notes to each other. After these notes, our friendship blossomed. She was so smart, happy, and full of hope. I still remember her smile that melted away all my shy defenses. (more…)
Mom had a long list of values to instill in us. Probably at the top of the list was: “Always tell the truth.” Just as I entered fifth grade, we moved to Birmingham, where that rule was about to get more nuanced: there was “the truth” and there was “the whole truth.”
Dad moved Mom and us four kids to Birmingham so he could join the civil rights movement. He may have been the only white man in the state whose fulltime job was civil rights. Mom and Dad had cautioned us not to talk about Dad’s work. With our teachers, neighbors, and friends, that piece of the truth could mean trouble. We navigated a fine line, technically never telling a lie but holding back most of what mattered to us. (more…)
Even as the inspiring words of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech rang out from the Lincoln Memorial during the historic March on Washington in August of 1963 were still reverberating around the world, less than a month later, on September 15, an even louder sound rumbled through my life. The rumbling has never stopped for me.
A bomb exploded before Sunday morning services at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama – a church with a predominantly black congregation that served as a meeting place for civil rights leaders. Four young girls were killed, and many other people injured that day. (more…)